Architects discuss influence versus copying

A recent symposium held at the Center of Architecture in New York addressed the issue of copyright law applied to architecture. Symposium members explored the difference between architects being influenced by past buildings, and copying them.

Architecture that wins prizes is innovative, creative and unique. Many of the buildings that are not candidates for awards have similar styles. Not every building needs to look original, but symposium speakers looked at how much you can copy existing buildings.

A case for the courts

The Architecture Works Copyright Act has been passed by the United States Congress. The act establishes copyright protection for architecture designs. The copyright rules on music, art and literature have long been established, but it is only recently that protection for building design has been addressed.

The relatives of the singer and songwriter Marvin Gaye argued in court that the song ‘Blurred Lines’ infringed the copyright of a Marvin Gaye song, ‘Got to Give It Up’. The defendants, Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke, said that they were influenced by the Marvin Gaye song, but did not copy it. They lost their case.

Are the lines blurred?

MIT architecture professor, Ana Miljacki’s speech at the symposium echoed the ‘Blurred Lines’ songwriters by saying that architects are influenced by past building designs through a process of permeation, but do not fragrantly copy existing buildings.

The architects Abalos and Herreros are known for borrowing ideas from other architects, but they assemble these ideas to form new architecture. Others may accuse them of plagiarism but Canadian architect, Florian Idenburg defended their approach.

Keith Krumwiede, Director of the Graduate School of Architecture at NJIT, pointed out that architects are often briefed to build houses that are “new but not too new.”

Legislation for architectural copyright is a difficult issue, but it could become a rich revenue source for copyright lawyers.

Posted by Matt Hughes
December 11, 2015

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